Real pressure for season opener
La Liga is set to kick-off with Real Madrid's Bernd Schuster in the spotlight.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2007 13:15 GMT

Real Madrid will have to improve their form after a lacklustre pre-season campaign [GALLO/GETTY]

Real Madrid, Spanish Primera League champions, kick-off their title defence against cross-town rivals Atletico Madrid on Saturday, after failing to impress in pre-season matches.
After sacking Fabio Capello, their championship-winning coach, and having brought in new manager Bernd Schuster and a string of new players, Real have looked frayed and unorganised in the lead up to the La Liga season.

A crisis meeting was held by Real following their 5-3 loss at home to Sevilla in the Spanish Super Cup on Sunday, and they almost immediately spent $65 million on Argentine defender Gabriel Heinze from Manchester United and Dutch winger Arjen Robben from Chelsea.

The recent spending takes Real's off-season purchases to $162.7 million in what could be described as 'panic buying', but the Galacticos will still be expected to start their campaign with a win at home in the season opener.

In contrast, Atletico are on a high after their new-look side produced some of the best football seen at the Calderon in recent years when they defeated Serbian side Vojvodina 3-0 in the Uefa Cup last week.

The gloom following the departure of star striker Fernando Torres to Liverpool has disappeared after a series of promising displays by the new strike pairing of Uruguay's Diego Forlan and Argentine youngster Sergio Aguero.

"With the attacking players we have we could cause uproar at the Bernabeu," Enrique Cerezo, Atletico club president, told sports daily Marca this week.

"But we have to make a huge effort, fight all the way and hope that things go our way."

'Fantastic Four'

Ronaldinho, right, explains the finer points of
striking to Thierry Henry [GALLO/GETTY]

Historical stats for the Madrid derby don't look good for Atletico however, as the 'rojiblancos' have been overawed by Real in recent years and have not beaten their neighbours in the league since October 1999 when they won 3-1 at the Bernabeu.

Meanwhile on Sunday, Barcelona will get a chance to parade their new signings Thierry Henry, Eric Abidal, Yaya Toure and Gabriel Milito at Racing Santander, the only side in the Primera Liga yet to spend any money on new players in the off-season.

Fearsome Barcelona forwards Ronaldinho, Samuel Eto'o, Lionel Messi and Henry, already dubbed the 'Fantastic Four', may be subject to a rotation policy from coach Frank Rijkaard with the latter likely to start on the bench.

In other matches, in-form Sevilla host Michael Laudrup's Getafe in a repeat of last season's King's Cup final amid the furore surrounding want-away defender Daniel Alves, while Valencia, another favourite for a top four finish, are at home to regional rivals Villarreal, who ended last season on an eight-match winning streak.

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